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The University of Southampton
Southampton Centre for Nineteenth-Century Research

Populist Palatial: The Making of the Victorian West End of London Seminar

16:00 - 18:00
5 December 2018
Building 65 Room 1097 Avenue Campus University of Southampton SO171BF

Event details

Part of the SNCR Seminar Series 2018/19. All welcome.


What do we mean when we talk about a pleasure district?  Scholars of urban society have had curiously little to say about this.  This paper examines the making of the West End of London as a distinctive pleasure district in the mid to late Victorian period.  By 1900, the area from Bond Street over to the Strand had acquired many of its present day characteristics, a constellation of theatres, restaurants, dance halls, billboard hoardings, music halls, concert venues, pubs, bars, galleries, grand hotels and locations for the sex industry.  Eros had been erected on Piccadilly Circus in 1893.  Actors like Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Herbert Beerbohm Tree were adored by many, developing the a celebrity culture.  Hotels like the Savoy served an international plutocracy whilst upmarket variety houses such as the Empire and the Alhambra on Leicester Square combined the appeal of music hall with ballet.  This paper attempts to decode the forms of identity that pleasure districts confer by considering a number of West End locations.  The paper argues that they developed a cultural style I call the populist palatial. This set a template for the development of mass entertainment on a global scale.  We need to think more deeply not only about pleasure districts but also the meanings and consequences of night life. 

Speaker information

Professor Rohan McWilliam , Anglia Ruskin University. Professor of Modern British History

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